• Directory of Taiwan

Meaning of Dragon Boat Day lost, complains local folklorist

Festival was originally a means to teach public about health care

Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei (front left), is seen leading a team consisting of officials from his county government to compete in a dragon b...

Making waves

Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei (front left), is seen leading a team consisting of officials from his county government to compete in a dragon b...

Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated this year on June 8, features an array of activities such as dragon boat races, eating zongzi and making "fragrant sachets, " but the traditional festival - one of the most important holidays of the lunar calendar - seems to have lost some of its cultural meaning, according to a noted local folklorist.
While China incorporated the Dragon Boat Festival among one of its national holidays last year as a measure to protect and promote Chinese tradition, in Taiwan, although the festival has been a national holiday for many years, it seems to have been simplified to an occasion for eating zongzi and racing dragon boats, according to Yuan Chang-rue, a folklorist and professor at the Graduate School of Folk Culture and Arts of the Taipei National University of the Arts.
"These days, the Dragon Boat Festival's emblematic meaning has already superseded its practical functions, " said Yuan, pointing out that originally, the festival was a means of reminding the public about the importance of health care.
In ancient times, the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated in early summer, reminded people that the "poison season" of May, June and July, is beginning, and with it the emergence of all kinds of stinging and biting insects, Yuan said.
The festival was created to prompt people to avoid illness caused by the sweltering summer weather, which is why people would hang a bind of wormwood at house entrances and drink Chinese medicinal wine during the festival, traditions largely lost in modern days, according to Yuan.
Even the dragon boat racing, he went on, was held in name of chasing away "water ghosts, " but in fact was a kind of advertising designed to educate people to be careful when playing in water during the warmer weather.
"Today, the festival has lost its meaning of health care, as people's way of life has changed with modern facilities, " said Yuan, noting that since people now use air conditioners and various mosquito repellent products, they no longer need the festival's practical functions.
The Dragon Boat Festival is also designated as Poets' Day, in commemoration of the Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.) , who committed suicide by drowning himself in a river in May.
After his death, people made zongzi, a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice delicacy with a savory filling wrapped in bamboo leaves that is still a common food for Chinese people today, and threw into the river for the fish, so that they would not feast on the poet's corpse.
However, the top cultural organization, the Council for Cultural Affairs, does not hold relevant activities for this occasion on a national scale and only a few local authorities and high schools organize poetry recital competitions as a faint reminder of the connection between Dragon Boat Festival and the poet.
As head of a non-governmental organization in the area of literature, Yu Hsi, president of the Chinese Poetry Society, said that although the cultural meaning of the festival might fade from people's memories, it will not wither, as the festival remains in the Chinese canon.
Even though some traditions fade due to changes in lifestyle and habits, Yuan said that culture is still an important factor that distinguishes one people from another, implying that even though the practical functions have been lost, the festival's symbolic meanings are still rooted in the Chinese cultural conscience.

Updated : 2021-08-03 22:54 GMT+08:00